Old Friends

I turn to my camera often when I am compelled to be creative and expressive.  My trusty Nikon’s never fail to be a source of great comfort for me.    I feel safe with them, secure with them, and inspired with them.  They are constant companions and familiar “friends” as I explore my world and pursue my love of photography.  The images I make are a part of me.  They too are like old friends but, what happens to the images I DON’T process?

The creative process, for me, is something very personal, spiritual, and meaningful.  Every photo is taken with great purpose but, not every one works as a “final” image.   Too often my expectations exceed the final results but, one characteristic of experience is that I shoot less frames and come away with more “keepers”.  My workflow dictates that I immediately make a folder of my subject, download my images into the folder, and mark the images that I believe are notable.  Once done with those I make another pass through and look for more keepers.  I always find more but, inevitably there are many that never get much of a look, let alone processed.  I keep every image unless there is something excessively wrong with the photo.  Like my cameras, ALL of these images are my friends.  Like real life friends, we need to visit with them and nurture them and learn from them; even our mistakes.  They should not be forgotten.

I feel it is VERY important to go back and review your images at another time.  Almost every time I do this, I find an overlooked gem that now resonates with me.  In our enthusiasm to process what we believe to be good, we hurriedly overlook failed images that we can learn from and still work on.  Our skill set with software does nothing but improve and the software itself becomes more and more powerful.  Re-visiting our images from this year, last year, and years before should become an integral part of our creative process.  The advancements in Lightroom, HDR software, and Nik Software broaden our ability for post production.  Dig deep into your creativity and you WILL find more quality images in your library.   If nothing else, you will reconnect with images, places, and people who have meaning for you.

Go ahead, take the time to say hi to an old friend today; one way or another.


“Photograph What You Feel”

Learn More

HDR: ENF– USE You’ve got more options!

Don’s mantra of Shoot What you Feel is a great way for you to think about your own photography and what you are trying to do.  My ‘mantra’ is one that complements Don’s: Get The Shot YOU Want.  So, if you’re trying to convey a particular feeling or simply to capture a subject in it’s best ‘light’ then know how to do it and what to look for.  Everyone knows I’m a fan of HDR.  I use HDR techniques more often than not.  I’ll even photograph a scene with 3-5 different exposures and determine at home on my PC if I ned the extra shots.  Sometimes I may only use one of the ‘extra’ images.  Other times I’ll use 3, or 5.  If you’re at location and the light is great don’t just take a shot>>>>get the data while you’re there.

During one of our Boston at Night workshops I took three exposures of the skyline from Fan Pier.  Those that were there know that I heartily encouraged that they do the same>>even if they didn’t have an HDR software program!  The sky was great and the Boston skyline is a great part of why we love New England!  So, get the shot.  The skyline is an easy scene to recognize that HDR will help you get the image you saw.  Our eyes are great at being able to see into both the shadows and the highlights but our cameras can’t match that (yet).  Being able to recognize if a scene should be captured with muliple exposures can be difficult at times but the ‘general’ rule is to use HDR techniques when the scene has a high contrast range within it.

Photomatix & Nik’s HDR Efx pro are two widely used and respected HDR software programs.  I use both depending on the subject. I find that Photomatix is great for scenics with trees & grass, etc whereas I think Nik’s is great for architecture in particular.  There is another choice that is not so widely known: Enfuse (http://www.photographers-toolbox.com/products/lrenfuse.php) which works directly in Lightroom as a plug-in (Very cool!).  It’s reasonably priced and provides a natural looking result. I tried it yesterday and like what I see.  You might too.

The image above is what the camera thought was correct for the scene. Of course it averaged the bright sky & buildings in shadow to give us that result.  The 3 photos below are the result of different HDR processing techniques.  You might want to compare them to your own work especially if you’re looking for a ‘natural’ looking scene.  I like a color scene to have some ‘extra’ color but also like a scene to look natural as well.  Depends on your mood at the time (!) and what you feel the scene should look like!

So the 3 images below are with Enfuse, Photomatix (using Tone mapping) and Photomatix using (Fusion Auto). On the 2 Photomatix images I used the preset with no adjustments.  My findings are:
– I like the Photomatix with Tone mapping for my ‘extra’ color scenes but has some haloing and noise







– The Photomatix image with Fusion Auto is more realistic but has a very flat almost silvery look to it (can be hard to adjust in LR) with a small amount of noise but sharpens up well

Photomatix-Fusion Auto






– The Enfuse image is more natural and has very little noise and sharpens up quite well

Enfuse HDR

Which one do I like?  I need to run more tests but the Enfuse version is very good.  I’ve looked at other images of landscapes and found the Enfuse software to provide very good low noise results with a more natural look.
All versions need some work in Lightroom or other editing software to give them more contrast.  In summary, I would suggest you try Enfuse for yourself as you may find the results to help you to get the shot you want!
Bob Ring, June 2012


Learn More

History Everywhere!

This saturday, May 12th, we are headed to Fort Warren for an exciting one day workshop.  The abandoned fort is located on George’s Island at the entrance to Boston Harbor and is the centerpiece of the Boston Harbor National Park Recreational Area.    Construction began on the fort in 1833 and was concluded during the Civil War: 30 years later!   Fort Warren was designed to guard Boston Harbor from hostile forces but, saw use mostly during the Civil War as a prison for confederate soldiers.  The fort was de-commissioned shortly after WWII but, today is a fantastic destination for tourists and photographers alike.  I can’t wait to lead a  group of adventurous photographers around this jewel of the Boston Harbor islands.

The greatest tool that a photographer can bring with them to the fort is their imagination.  As you walk the grounds and roam the old decaying buildings, stop and imagine the many souls that lived there, served there, were imprisoned there, and died there.  The granite used to build the fort came from the nearby Quincy quarries and others on Cape Ann.  As you observe the massive slabs of granite used in construction, imagine the many workers who cut that granite and labored  to bring it to the island.  Imagine the immigrants, and the families, that forged a life working in the quarries. Imagine where they came from, what their dreams were, where they lived, and how they lived.  Theirs was the American Dream; no different than our dreams today.   In 1833 construction was done with man power, horse power, and sweat.  The granite was brought to the island via sailing vessel.  Look at the massive slabs and imagine the difficulty of loading and unloading a boat by hand, wagon, and horse.  The work was staggeringly hard.  Fort Warren took over 30 years to build – by HAND.  Yes, the most powerful tool a photographer can bring with them to places such as Fort Warren is their imagination.

One of the most invaluable characteristics of New England is it’s rich and storied history.   I love history in general but, I LOVE the history and cultures of New England.  Photography is my profession now but, my degree, from Northeastern University, is in History.   I am thrilled to combine my reverence of history with my love of photography.  All around us, everywhere, history lives and breathes.  Some of it is on a very large and dramatic scale;  some of it is much smaller and inconspicuous scale.  Nonetheless, all of it is essential.  It is our responsibility to respect each and every story before us.  Being informed not only makes us better photographers but, more importantly, better people.  I remind people often that in order to be better photographers we first must  make ourselves better conservationists, better environmentalists, and better naturalists.  The more we know about a subject the more likely we will be successful photographing it.  The more we care about a subject, the more likely we will be successful at preserving it for others to enjoy.  The two go hand in hand.

When you are in the field working it goes without saying that you must follow good technique as often as possible.  However, good technique is not limited to only your camera and gear.  To me, it is equally important to understand what you are photographing and appreciate its story.  Follow good technique with your knowledge and imagination as well.  Know your subject and FEEL it.  Open your mind and heart to the scene before you and photograph with emotion.  More than anything this will lead you to making images with greater impact.  More than anything this will resonate with you far beyond a dramatic image.  The story of Fort Warren is OUR story and we should do all we can to feel it and share it.

Photograph What You Feel

Learn More

The Value of a Self-Assignment

Quite often we, as photographers, struggle to find the motivation to get out and create images. In our daily lives many things influence our creativity, or lack thereof. During the winter months we often struggle to find the enthusiasm to brave the elements and do what we love to do: make photos!  One sure way to feel inspired is to take on a Self-Assignment.  A Self-Assignment motivates you to pick up your camera and shoot but, also inspires you to push your creative limits while exploring your chosen subject.

The recent winter here in New England was extraodinarily mild.  The lack of typically cold weather meant many opportunities for venturing out with camera in hand, the lack of snow left the landscape brown and unattractive for the most part.  Most of my photography is done in the outdoors so, the snowless winter left me uninspired for any scenic or landscape photography.

So, to combat the boredom of a featureless winter, I gave myself a specific assignment with purpose:  Haverhill at Night.  My project would be to shoot scenes of my hometown, Haverhill, Massachusetts, but my images could be done only at night and then presented in black and white.  .Haverhill was once a mighty manufacturing center in northern Massachusetts.  During it’s economic heyday 10% of the countries shoes were made in Haverhill earning the city the nickname of “Queen Slipper City”.   In it’s height of productivity the downtown section was full of mills and businesses that were booming.  Today, after years of  lean economic times, Haverhill is a small city undergoing a much needed revitalization.  The long abandoned downtown mills are being transformed into condominiums and new business opportunities including restaurants and eclectic shops.  Once again, Haverhill is thriving.


I have lived in Haverhill for 10 years now but, know very little about the city other than it’s history.  I am unfamiliar with the many roads in and around Haverhill let alone any of its more significant buildings or urban scenes.  The original intent of my project was to get myself out shooting. and learn more about where I chose to live.   In the field  Bob and I strongly advocate Exploring Your Subject and this project allows me to heed my own advice.   If you invest your  energy thoroughly you will not only gain more knowledge of your subject but, your images will reflect growth and new perspectives as well.   Proudly, Haverhill at Night has taken on new life as I embraced my project and fine tuned my vision.


One particular benefit to my project is the opportunity to expand my growing passion for black and white photography.  Haverhill and its storied mills are rich with texture and detail:  perfect for black and white images.  By narrowing my vision to only shooting at night I am also creating the circumstances to fine tune my skill at low light and night photography.   My snowless winter yielded nothing for dramatic New England scenics but, my self assignment has given me a very fun, energizing, and marketable body of work.

Now that spring is here, once again I will be outside finding beautiful colors to shoot but, I will still continue with my project.  I can envision a gallery show of my work, possible sales to downtown restaurants and shops, and presentations on Haverhill and night time photography.  I could not be happier with the results or the possibilities.

So, when you are feeling less than inspired to pick up your camera, put your mind to work on something that will motivate you to take part in the creative process of photography.  Find a self assignment and stick to it.  Embrace your self assignment and grow as a photographer.  Your potential is limitless.

Don Toothaker
“Photograph What You Feel”
Learn More